Ensure lambs get adequate colostrum to offer best start
Published 09/03/2010 | 05:00
Many mid-season lambing flocks have their first few lambs on the ground at this stage -- but if they haven't, they are not too far off that point.
Lambing is the highlight of the sheep year when the coming year's crop is born, and with it the expectations and hopes for a profitable year. The birth process and the following 24 hours is the most challenging time in the newborn lamb's life. And there are lots of lambs that never make it past this mark.
Getting the lamb set up to survive these vital hours, and the days and weeks thereafter, is under the control of the shepherd, and what happens at and around lambing time.
It is important to remember that the newborn lamb is born with no immune system to fight off disease, nor does it have a huge energy reserve to keep going for a significant time after birth. The shepherd's challenge is to provide the lamb with nourishment, a clean, safe environment and protection from disease-causing organisms.
Starvation/exposure is the biggest killer of newborn lambs. This basically happens when the lamb is exposed to extreme weather or has not been fed. The second biggest cause is disease, which is obviously related to the hygiene in the shed at lambing time in addition to the quantity and quality of antibodies that newborn lamb has.
No matter how much attention is paid to lambing shed detail, if the lambs do not receive enough colostrum they are at risk. Ensuring that lambs get enough colostrum as soon as possible after birth is the second most important task that each shepherd has after getting the live lambs out of the ewe.
Colostrum performs several different tasks once it has been ingested by the lamb. The primary function is to provide the lamb with nourishment, which is why it is high in energy and protein. After nutrition, colostrum provides the newborn lamb with antibodies. These antibodies provide the lamb with a passive immune system, which will help it to fight off disease until it has developed its own immune system. The third important function that colostrum fulfils is that it acts as a laxative to free up the lamb's digestive system.
The amount of colostrum that is consumed, and the time frame within which it is consumed, is very important. Aim to get each lamb to consume at least 20pc of its bodyweight in colostrum in the first 24 hours of life. This 20pc should be broken into four equal feeds (around 5pc of bodyweight in each feed) and consumed every 4-6 hours so that, by the time the lamb is 16-20 hours old, it will have consumed its full allowance.